Muscogee (Creek) veteran honors fallen on WWI centennial anniversary
EUFAULA, Oklahoma — John Sloan’s latest mission did not begin with a draft letter like the one that took him to Vietnam in 1969, but the call from Ken Davis asking him to travel to France to honor Killed in Action Muscogee (Creek) soldiers buried abroad in one of the many overseas American cemeteries would have a profound effect on him.
Sloan served in the 23rd Infantry Division, Vietnam. But for this mission, he did not need his Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU) or weapons, no ammunition of any kind for this mission. Just his green veteran’s vest, his beret, four Muscogee (Creek) Flags, four Oklahoma Flags, four flags of the United States and four small containers of Oklahoma soil gathered from right in front of the statues commemorating the various wars at the MCN Veterans Affairs building and four eagle feathers.
He did not have to worry about an enemy in the jungle on this latest mission, but he did have to overcome the rigors of traveling, navigating a foreign place, and some old wounds that many young men were coming home from Vietnam faced.
“I think now, those in the service are better respected than we were back then,” Sloan said.
Sloans recalled the Vietnam war being on everyone’s mind. He pretty much knew where he would be heading. Worrying about grades in college and the other things young men sort through one minute and then a letter to report for duty would completely change his scope of priorities.
“I was a student at OSU when I got my greetings letter,” Sloan said. “So my service career began in the U.S. Army on April 20, 1968.”
Some of the people who were drafted could find ways to get out the responsibility.
“But I didn’t want to do that,” Sloan said. “As I got into training, there seemed to be something to this, like it was part of my journey.”
It was a decision he believes was right for him to this day.
“I went through basics, and advanced training then was shipped off to Vietnam in October of 1969,” Sloan said.
According to Sloan, he would come to know several people who had lost their lives and were wounded in Vietnam. He did not come through the war unscathed.
He was wounded four times. RPG rounds, shrapnel wounds, and boobie traps came close to getting the best of him.
“I was able to stay a step ahead,” Sloan said. “…ended up with four purple hearts.”
Sloan said that despite his injuries, he considered himself fortunate. After all, he was able to come home when so many were not.
“While it was pretty rough for some of us, I always considered myself fortunate,” Sloan said.
The homecoming was not the warm welcome home many of the soldiers expected.
“At that time things were different than they are today,” Sloan said. “Many of us came back after just doing our duty, and people looked at you different, we weren’t respected very well.”
That left Sloan wondering what had happened in this country since he had been gone.
“It was laying on my heart, it was a shock,” Sloan said. “I’m glad that now the military is better respected than we were back then.”
But Sloan was glad to be home. He finished out his time and found that military did suit him. He went into the National Guard and even found himself mentoring younger troops that were coming in.
“Being in the military gave me a different outlook,” Sloan said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend joining the service to any young person who is considering it.”
Sloan spoke of the latest “tour” of service in France, with the same gratitude and spiritual perspective.
“To go to France, represent my tribe, to honor soldiers from the great war, from WWI, to be at the cemetery, to honor the graves,” Sloan said, “Well it was just the epitome my life.”
According to Ken Davis, who leads the Veteran’s Affairs department, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation sent Sloan as a delegate, he was in Paris for ceremonies honoring Americans’ aid and support to France.
As the centennial period commemorating the first world war came to a close, Sloan traveled to American cemeteries at St. Michel and Meuse-Argonne, paying respect to the four Muscogee (Creek) WWI Veterans buried there.
“John represented all of us in France, to mark the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I,” Davis said. “It’s important to understand that these soldiers are just the ones we have been able to identify.”
This trip was not rife with dangers like his last trip abroad, but Sloan faced a few challenges.
“I just don’t get around as I use too, and those airports are enormous,” Sloan said. “And you don’t always have signs in English over there.”
Sloan said that while it was tricky to navigate at times, he found everyone very helpful.
“When I would arrive and let people know who I was and what I was doing, they were always helpful and would go out of their way,” Sloan said.
No one raised any questions about the four vials of soil he had collected and packed. At one point he worried they might not allow them through customs.
“The idea was to take a little bit of Oklahoma to these soldiers since they weren’t able to come home,” Sloan said.
He also found himself as a bit of a curiosity to the locals.
“I don’t think they encounter many Native Americans in France,” Sloan said. “And I certainly had to pay extra attention to understand their accents.”
Sloan admits he often has wanted to make a trip to see the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall. But when he found out about this trip, he could not have been more proud to serve as a delegate. What he had not realized, however, was the spiritual impact the trip would have.
“The atmosphere, the fog, the cold and quiet, it was a hallowed place,” Sloan said. “And at one point I felt this tremor from the ground and asked the person showing where to go if he felt that.”
Of course, the man had not felt anything but Sloan had felt a connection. A slight trimmer in the ground.
“That was an experience, as I placed these items around their headstones, there was a presence,” Sloan said. “It was etheric; I will never forget it.”
He said the trip had given him a sense of coming full circle. As he honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice, John Sloan, was able to reconcile his feelings by giving those soldiers the piece of home they never got.